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Jul 03, 2008 at 06:59pm IST

Does sugarcane have enough juice to power India's fleet?

Mumbai: Sugarcane is the bio-fuel that India has chosen to cut down on oil imports and ease the burden of rising fuel costs.

Sugarcane waste or molasses are being used to extract ethanol for bio-fuel and sugar co-ops in Maharashtra say they have the capacity to produce as much as 85 crore litres of ethanol annually.

Secretary of Maharashtra Sugar Co-op Federation Ajit Choughule said, “Oil companies should adopt indigenous green fuel.”

Since 2003, the Government has allowed oil companies to supply 5 per cent ethanol-blended petrol across the country. The target now is to increase the blend to 10 per cent.

This blend gives less mileage than pure petrol, but works out cheaper than conventional fuel. It’s also greener because blended petrol emits lesser greenhouse gases.

So has India found a cleaner, cheaper solution to fuel the country? Not quite, because sugarcane is a food crop.

Rising dependence on ethanol could have a cascading effect. If sugarcane is directly diverted for ethanol, there could be a fall in sugar production, leading to inflationary prices.

Meanwhile, international experts caution India about dangers of bio-fuel.

Environmentalist Lester Brown explained, “US has been diverting 20 million tons of corn to make ethanol and that's hit corn prices and grain production globally. Bio-fuel from food is a big threat to food security.”

So should sugarcane, a food crop, be diverted to fuel vehicles? Can sugarcane fuel India's future? The debate about this alternative fuel rages on.

(With inputs from Anu Jogesh)

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